Proving he’s worthy - Can Nico Hülkenberg get an F1 seat?
Showing you deserve a Formula 1 seat is one thing. Actually getting one is another.
Nico Hülkenberg’s short-lived return to Formula 1 was certainly a timeline people enjoyed; the German’s departure after being replaced at Renault last year certainly felt premature, especially as there was outside hope for his first podium, after what could’ve been the end of his career. His whirlwind weekend before the British Grand Prix following Sergio Perez’s positive COVID-19 test was hilariously entertaining, and his failure to start that race was equally as devastating for fans. Redemption seemed to come in qualifying the following week, when he placed the Racing Point car on the second row of the grid. Whilst he didn’t maintain this position until the end of the race, his P7 finish was admirable, and left everyone hoping he returns to the grid next year.
That’s easier said than done, though. 11 out of 20 drivers have confirmed contracts for 2021, and whilst only Verstappen is confirmed for a Red Bull seat, it’s likely Red Bull universe will only swap seats with each other, bringing that total closer to 14. That leaves 3 teams with unconfirmed line-ups for Hülkenberg to potentially sign a contract with: Alfa Romeo, Racing Point, and Haas.
Given the team’s newfound pace, most drivers would be fighting for a Racing Point seat the hardest out of these options; considering the German’s history with the team (both this season and his two stints with them previously), he’ll be even more motivated to sign with them. However, it seems that he’s not the only one with this idea - Hülkenberg is an outsider in the team, considering that Vettel, Perez, and Stroll are already in an all-out fight for a seat with them. He’s not worth counting out, though. If Racing Point decide that Sergio Perez hasn’t proved himself enough, and don’t sign Stroll or Vettel, Hülkenberg will be the next driver the team call. He has more experience than Stroll, which puts him in a similar position to Perez, but perhaps has proven he can do more than Mexican driver has.
If Ross Brawn’s word is anything to go by (and it generally is), Hülkenberg deserves a Racing Point seat. The pink team have been under plenty of controversy this season for copying Mercedes, but in this instance, it might be a good idea: Brawn revealed that when he was Mercedes Team Principal, the German driver was Mercedes’ second choice if they were unable to sign Lewis Hamilton. Considering Hamilton is now considered one of the greatest drivers of all time, Racing Point might be smart to consider Hülkenberg for a seat.
If Racing Point don’t want Hülkenberg, or simply overlook him (to be fair, they are already looking at 3 drivers), there are still some options left. One is Alfa Romeo, although they also already have plenty of contenders for their seats - you can read my article about that here. The other option is Haas. I’ve also discussed this option previously, in my article ‘Are Hülkenberg And Perez Coming For Grosjean’s Seat?’, but one of the main issues I highlighted in this was the rivalry between Magnussen and Hülkenberg. Whilst a few therapy sessions (and doubtless some strong ones from Guenther Steiner) would probably force a working relationship, it’d certainly be something for the team to consider. However, in Thursday’s press conference ahead of the Belgian GP, the Haas Team Principal made it clear that Hülkenberg could be driving for them in 2021.
"We are looking at everything," Steiner said.
"…At the moment, everything is on the table from keeping the drivers we have got, to getting two rookies. So if you want the seat you can apply for it! Everything is possible in the moment.”
Neither Grosjean not Magnussen have indicated that they’re making way this year, but Haas are one of the only teams with an unconfirmed line-up, and have had the same drivers since 2017. If their performance continues to decline, will Haas look to the experienced German for the future - and more importantly, is that where Hülkenberg sees himself?
He’s an incredible talent, but everyone knows that already. The problem with Formula 1 is that far too often, that doesn’t guarantee you an incredible seat -and sometimes, it doesn’t guarantee you a seat at all.
What do you think? Will we see Nico back in an F1 car this year, and if so, which colour will it be? Let me know in the comments!